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  • Books that Children CAN Read:

    Decodable Books and Book Leveling

    DRAFT REPORT

    BOOKS THAT CHILDREN CAN READ:

    DECODABLE BOOKS AND BOOK LEVELING

    FINAL REPORT

    NOVEMBER 2013

    This publication was produced for review by the United States Agency for International Development. It was

    prepared by the Aguirre Division of JBS International. Its author is Marcia Davidson.

  • BOOKS THAT CHILDREN CAN READ:

    DECODABLE BOOKS AND BOOK LEVELING

    FINAL REPORT

    DISCLAIMER

    The authors’ views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government.

  • Books that Children CAN Read

    i

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

    The author would like to acknowledge the following individuals for providing the decodable examples in the appendix:

    Room to Read: Cory Heyman, Chief Programs Officer; Probak Karim, Senior Global Literacy Advisor,

    and Willi Pascual, former Program Director of the Book Publishing program.

    FHI360: Timawerenga Malawi books; Kirsten Galisson, Senior Technical Officer.

  • Books that Children CAN Read

    ii

    CONTENTS Glossary .............................................................................................................................................................................. III

    I. Purpose and Methodology ........................................................................................................................................... 1

    A. Purpose ........................................................................................................................................................ 1

    B. Text Difficulty and Readability ................................................................................................................ 4

    C. Leveled Books ............................................................................................................................................ 5

    II. Purposes of Different Types of Text for Beginning Readers .............................................................................. 8

    A. Leveled Readers ......................................................................................................................................... 8

    B. The New Dale-Chall Readability Formula ........................................................................................... 9

    C. The Lexile Framework ........................................................................................................................... 10

    III. Research on Text Difficulty in Languages Other than English ........................................................................ 13

    IV. Recommendations and Discussion ........................................................................................................................ 23

    References ......................................................................................................................................................................... 24

    Annex A: Nepal Reader ................................................................................................................................................. 27

    Annex B: Decodable Reader Bangladesh ................................................................................................................... 30

    Annex C: Sample Timawerenga! Digest Page (Malawi) .......................................................................................... 33

  • Books that Children CAN Read

    iii

    GLOSSARY Decodable text: Mesmer (2001) defines decodable text by focusing on two salient features: (1) the

    proportion of words in which letters and sounds have phonetically regular relationships, and (2) the

    degree of relationship between the letter-sound relationships learned and those present within the text. Decodable text mainly includes words that children have learned to sound out or decode independently.

    Leveled texts: Leveled texts are typically books or stories with increasing levels of difficulty

    (Cunningham, et. al, 2005). They are designed to provide students with reading materials that range

    from very simple to gradually more complex and challenging.

    Readability: Edgar Dale and Jeanne Chall’s (1949) definition is one of the most comprehensive: “The

    sum total (including all the interactions) of all those elements within a given piece of printed material

    that affect the success a group of readers have with it. The success is the extent to which they

    understand it, read it at an optimal speed, and find it interesting" (Dubay, 2004, p.3). Readability is most

    familiar in the context of formulas that provide an objective numerical score representing text difficulty;

    the score corresponds to a grade level calibrated by the months in an academic year or a standard

    score.

    Text: Text refers to a wide range of written materials—from a body of work to a book, a passage,

    sentence, or even individual words. It is derived from the Middle English word texte, meaning written

    account (Mesmer & Cumming, 2009; Houghton Mifflin, 2006). For the purpose of this paper, the word

    text refers to continuous text or complete passages or complete context. This definition excludes a

    word, a sentence, or any other part of a complete passage (Mesmer & Cumming, 2009). That means that a 10-page storybook can be considered a text, but 10 pages from a larger work cannot.

    Text coherence: Coherence refers to how propositions are connected in a reader’s mental representation, a cognitive construct (Benjamin, 2012).

    Text complexity: Complexity is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as consisting of many

    different and connected parts. Text complexity is more complicated than text difficulty. It encompasses a number of factors that determine the challenge of a particular text to an individual.

    Text difficulty: Difficulty is defined as something hard to accomplish or understand. Text difficulty

    refers to the accessibility of text to the reader (Fulcher, 1997) and is very important for teachers to

    consider when selecting texts for children to read. Appropriate text difficulty is often defined as text

    that can be read with satisfactory speed, accuracy, and comprehension (Morris, 2005).

  • Books the Children CAN Read

    1

    I. PURPOSE AND METHODOLOGY In many countries, children often have little or no exposure to print prior to entering school. They are eager to learn, but they may have limited vocabulary and the language of instruction frequently is not

    their mother tongue. For these children, learning to read is an enormous challenge. They will learn to

    read only if the instruction and materials are designed for their level of skills upon entry. Materials that

    support and engage children during classroom teaching play a key role in ensuring that they learn to

    read. Like quality instruction, appropriate materials are fundamental to effective student learning. They also provide a superior learning experience for young children.

    However, in many countries, the books available in the primary grades are far too difficult for young

    children to read. Books are at a premium, and well-meaning educators often focus on getting ones

    labeled “children’s” without considering their content—as though the presence of books themselves will

    ignite reading in a classroom. But the reality is that these books are not used because the children

    cannot read them. When a book is too difficult, even when it is attractive and appealing, the words

    remain indecipherable and the books quickly become no more than classroom ornaments. Reading the

    words and understanding them is the ultimate satisfaction. The content of children’s books—the words,

    the stories, the simplicity or complexity of the text—is a powerful force in the process of building a

    culture of reading. Children need books that they can read and share with parents, family, and friends.

    Creating and identifying books that children can read is the first challenge. These tasks require an

    understanding of the research on phonemic awareness, the alphabetic principle, and phonics in early

    reading acquisition, as well as on text difficulty; the rationale for different ways to determine whether

    particular texts are appropriate for beginning readers; and the ways that different written languages

    affect and constrain decisions in creating the content for young children.

    In addition, most poor countries do not have books that are at an appropriate level for children's

    reading ability. Many texts are arbitrarily assigned to classes based upon grade and standard levels that

    are appropriate for countries with very different contexts. Thus, the task often will not be determining

    the level of existing texts, but creating new or significantly modified texts using guidelines that address

    word meanings and spellings. To accomplish this requires answering many questions. For example, which

    words are the easiest to read and also familiar to children? What co